Centaur of the Universe
by Wolfling and James


  It was four days after Shensen had returned home that Levon
  remembered that they had left the attic in shambles. He waited until
  Joe walked into the living room, obviously ready to relax for the
  rest of the evening, before asking carefully, "Did we leave
  everything scattered everywhere in the attic?"
  
  Joe paused for a moment, obviously thinking back. "Yeah, I guess we
  did."

  Levon gave him a grin.  "Think we'd better go put things away, else
  sometime next year we're gonna go up to find something and the mice
  will have it all chewed on."

  "Could always just get a cat," Joe grumbled but he followed his
   partner willingly enough.

  Levon switched the light on, and surveyed the attic. Sure enough, at
  least four boxes had been left open, two nearly empty with their
  contents spilled onto the floor. He knelt beside one, and glanced up
  as he became repacking it.  "A cat, huh?"  He wondered if Joe might
  actually *like* cats.

  "Yeah, a cat. You know, small furry creature, catches mice and
   purrs?" Joe went over and knelt beside the other spilled box.

  "I know what they are, LaFiamma."  Levon gave his lover a glare.  He
  wondered if he should mention the litter of kittens Judy's cat had,
  or just show up one day with a couple. There were two with orange
  coats, one with white socks and one with a white face which he'd
  found nearly irresistible when he'd returned the clothes they'd
  borrowed for Shensen.  They were still a couple weeks too young to
  leave home.

  "Then why'd you ask?" Joe teased.  Levon rolled his eyes, and went
  back to the box he was repacking. Everything fit almost as neatly as
  it had before he'd unloaded it. A glance showed him Joe was making
  short work of the other box. "Hey Levon?" Joe asked after a moment's
  silence.

  "Yeah?"

  "You never did tell me why we were going through all this stuff in
   the first place."

  "Looking for something," he answered, shoving the box under an old
  table, out of the way.  He reached for another.

  "Looking for what?" Joe pressed.

  Sighing, Levon realised that Joe wouldn't stop asking, even though
  he'd recognise the darn thing as soon as he saw it.  Maybe, though,
  he could mislead him a little.  "Some photos.  Small ones, like you
  get at school?"

  Joe's lips twitched. "Centaur class of '67?"

  Levon grinned.  "No."  He glanced sideways at his lover as he began
  rummaging through the second box.  "'65."

  "So, pictures? Is that all we're looking for?" He gave Levon a probing
  look.

  With a shrug, Levon repacked the box quickly.  It only had college
  yearbooks and other mementos, mostly his and Caroline's.  Nothing he
  needed Joe to see, now.  "Bunch of photos I can't leave out, thought
  you might want to see 'em."  He left it at that, hoping Joe would
  consider it enough of a reason.
  
  At that Joe's attitude softened. "Yeah," he said with a smile. "I
  would." He turned back to his packing, paying closer attention to
  what he was doing. "So what do they look like?"
  
  "Just your usual, wallet-size photos.  Ain't many of 'em..."  He
  ducked his head, hoping Joe couldn't tell that, though there *were*
  such photos, they were in a small box that was inside the chest he
  was currently crouching beside.  He didn't want to 'find' them until
  Joe'd had a chance to see something else.  It ought to be in the box
  Joe was about to open.
  
  Joe finished with the box he was working on and reached for the next.
  When he saw what lay on top of it, he stopped. "I had one of these
  when I was a kid," he said smiling fondly, as he pulled out the
  amusement park banner.
  
  "What's that?"  Levon asked as he looked over. He smiled when he saw
  what Joe had found.  "Oh yeah.  Joy and Carla took us there one
  summer.  Which one'd you go to?" There were several Six Flags theme
  parks across the country.
  
  "Would you believe the one here in Arlington?  The one and only time
  I'd been to Texas before being transferred here."
  
  "Oh yeah?"  Levon gave his lover a look of surprise. "You never told
  me you'd been to Texas before."
  
  "Not much to tell." Joe shrugged. "It was the year after my father
  had died, my mom still wasn't handling it too well so Uncle Mikey and
  Aunt Teresea took me with their family when they went on vacation. No
  big deal."
  
  Levon sat back onto his heels.  "No big deal?  Didn't you enjoy the
  park?"
  
  That brought a small smile to Joe's face. "Yeah, I did. Though it
  didn't start out that way..."
  
  "What happened?" 
  
  Joe shifted to a more comfortable sitting position. "Aunt Teresea
  wasn't feeling well and Uncle Mikey had some business to take care of
  so he dropped me and my cousins, who were 12 and 14, off at Six Flags
  for the day. Only problem was the last thing my cousins wanted was to
  hang out with a kid all day. So they ditched me." He paused and
  looked over at his partner. "You really want to hear this?"
  
  Levon considered his lover's expression, his tone of voice carefully.
  Joe didn't seem to mind being reminded. "'Course I do," he said.
  
  Joe looked at him for a long moment. "Okay," he said finally, then
  launched into his story. "Well we'd just gotten through the gate when
  Vinnie and Tony informed me that I wouldn't be tagging along with
  them all day..."
  
  --------- 
  
  The park was crowded, as was to be expected on a hot summer's
  morning, just inside the gates. Families were pushing in, parents
  trying to keep their hands or eyes on children who were screaming,
  laughing, and trying to run ahead. Some of the rides could been seen,
  towering over the nearby concession stands and trees. The Judge Roy
  Scream was the tallest, the roller coaster that the theme park was
  famous for. Off in the distance, though, the parachute drop was
  visible, its gondolas swaying gently in the breeze, high above the
  ground. Brightly coloured signs pointed out paths to various parts of
  the park, and here and there walked uniformed employees, hawking
  various souvenirs.
  
  Joey hated it. Watching the backs of his cousins disappear into the
  crowd, he wanted nothing more than to be back home in Chicago. Why
  had his mom made him go on this trip? Shouts of excited kids
  surrounded him, and for a moment he was overrun as a large group went
  swarming past.  Behind them a woman shouted for them to be careful,
  watch out for that boy -- and amasingly, the kids stepped aside, no
  longer jostling them as they went past.
  
  Joey watched them go, unable to hold back a wistful sigh. They looked
  -- and sounded -- like they were going to have a good time. One boy
  stopped just as he would have passed Joey. The kid looked to be his
  own age; he stared at Joey, blue eyes going wide as he looked, and
  said nothing. "What are you looking at?" Joey challenged the boy. He
  didn't need anyone feeling sorry for him. He didn't.
  
  "Where's your grownups?"  The boy asked, thick accent obscuring his
  words.
  
  "I'm here on my own." Joey tried to sound like this was a good thing.
  
  The boy just considered him for a moment, then he reached out and
  took Joey's hand.  "You can come with me and Joshua and Cory."  That
  was when Joey noticed two other kids, also looking to be his own age,
  standing beside them.
  
  Joey was torn. Just a moment ago he had been envious of the group, had
  wanted on some level to be a part of it. Now he was being asked to go
  along. But he wasn't sure he could swallow his pride and accept. "I-"
  he began, not knowing what he was going to answer.
  
  "We'll be able to ride the swingers by ourselves, now."  The other
  boy, Joshua no doubt, spoke up with a pleased tone.  "Come on, we
  have to go before Joy yells for us."
  
  He and the girl hurried off, and the first boy -- who was still
  holding onto his hand -- gave him a tug and a worried look. "We'd
  best hurry.  Lines'll be long, soon."
  
  Finally giving into what he wanted to do, Joey let himself be pulled
  along. Despite the boy's insistence that they not fall behind, Joey
  found the other kids in the group quickly moving ahead.  There were,
  it seemed, two adults and three teenagers riding herd over these
  kids; they divided up as the kids split off, calling out which rides
  they wanted to go on first.
  
  "What do you wanna do?"  The boy asked him. 
 
  Joey looked around at all the rides and finally shrugged. "You decide,"
  he said, finally allowing himself to just be glad to have someone who
  didn't seem to want to ditch him.
  
  "I don't know," the boy offered tentatively. "I've never been here
  before.  Joy gave us maps of the park before we came so I know where
  everything is...."
  
  "That's more than I know," Joey admitted. "My cousin Tony was the
  only one who got a map."
 
 "Well, then tell me what sorta ride you want and I can take us there.
  Roller coaster? Spindle top? Bumper cars?"
  
  Roller coaster. Joey had never been on a roller coaster. He looked up
  at the bulk of it rising high against the sky. So Vinnie and Tony
  didn't want him tagging along because he was too much of a baby, did
  they? Well, he'd show them. "Let's try the coaster first."
  
  The boy grinned.  "Let's go!" With a tug at Joey's hand, the boy
  started off through the crowd.  As they passed behind a woman, he
  called out, "Coaster!" and then they were gone into the crowd. It
  didn't take them long to reach the Judge Roy Scream. 
  
  As they joined the slow moving lineup of people waiting to get on the
  ride Joey turned to his companion. "What's your name anyway?"
  
  "Le-"  The boy said sharply.  He got a wary look on his face, then it
  cleared and he asked, "What's yours?"
  
  "Joey," Joey replied, sticking out his hand to the other boy. "Nice
  ta meet'cha."
  
  The boy gave him a look, clear and direct.  "You don't sound like the
  others."
  
  "What d'ya mean?" Joey's tone was belligerent.
  
  The boy looked startled.  "I just mean you talk differently.  Your..
  your accent?"
  
  "Oh. I'm from Chicago." 
  
  Screwing up his face in concentration, Lee thought for a moment.
  "Chicago.. that's.. oh!  Big city in Illinois?"
  
  'Chicago's home,' Joey thought. Aloud he said, "Yeah it is. What
  about you? Where are you from?"

  "Prairie View.  You'll never heard of it.  Little town way down by
  Houston.  My dad has a big ranch." 
  
  "Yeah? You have horses?" To Joey horses seemed as exotic as tigers.

  His new friend grinned.  "Yeah.  We have a small herd of horses."

  Joey's eyes bugged out. "A whole herd? How many's that?" 
  
  Patiently the boy replied, making Joe feel as if the question were
  not, in fact, a stupid one.  "Can be anywhere from a half dozen to
  forty or fifty.  Most times you have a herd of thirty to forty,
  though.  Ours is only 17 right now.  We just had a foal born last
  month.  She's a chestnut -- means she's red coloured."
  
  "I've never seen a real live horse," Joey confided.

  Lee didn't answer -- instead his face light up in excitement, and he
  whispered, "Stand up real tall!  You have to be taller than that sign
  to get on the ride."  He pointed.  They were very near the front of
  the line.

  Joey straightened, not worried. He was at his full height nearly half
  an inch taller than the sign. "You stand up," he hissed back at the
  shorter Lee.

  The boy complied, stretching his neck up, chin tilting upwards in an
  effort to increase his height.  "Am I tall enough?"  They moved a
  little closer to the sign. 
  
  Glancing back and forth from the boy to the sign, Joey considered.
  "Yeah," he finally said. "But I'd stand on tiptoe if they check you
  just in case."
  
  "OK."  Lee managed to walk the next few steps slightly teetering on
  his toes.  Joe heard him say something under his breath about being
  taller.
  
  "What was that?"
  
  With a startled expression, Lee looked at him.  "If.. if I had my
  boots on I'd be taller.  Come on!"  They stepped up to, and were
  waved past the looming sign.
  
  Soon they were taking their places on the ride itself. Joey grabbed
  hold of the bar as it lowered across him and Lee, holding them in.
  He bounced slightly, checking its support then looked up at the
  first steep incline they would be climbing. He swallowed. It was an
  awfully long way up.

  "You ever been on a roller coaster before?"  Lee's voice was slightly
  shaky.

  "Have you?"

  "I've never even been to tow--  um, to Six Flags before."

  "Me neither." Joey was quiet for a moment, then jumped as the ride
  jolted into motion. "Well if you get scared, I'll hold your hand if
  you want." He ventured a look at his companion, swallowing hard
  against his own fear.

  Lee grabbed Joe's hand, just moments before the cars began to climb.
  The first peak was the highest, higher than anything else in the park
  except for the parachute drop. As they nearer the pinnacle, Lee
  whispered, "I've never been this high before--"

  Then they were falling.  And screaming. Joey closed his eyes, left
  hand holding onto the safety bar with a white knuckled grip, right
  hand squeezing Lee's hand equally tightly as they surged up the next
  incline before dropping again. He screamed even louder this time as
  he felt his butt leave the seat for a terrifying split second at the
  top of the climb.

  As the cars spun around a turn, Joe felt himself pressed up against
  his companion.  He peeked with one eye and found Lee's eyes squeezed
  shut as well. Somehow that made him feel a little better, knowing he
  wasn't the only one scared.
  
  Finally the ride was over.  Two more stomach-spinning drops and five
  jaw-rattling turns later, the boys were released from the car to
  stagger away.  Lee went to lean against a railed fence, and looked at
  Joey. "You wanna do that again?"
  
  "Uhh..." Joey looked back over his shoulder at the ride and barely
   managed to suppress a shudder. "Maybe later..."

  "Good."  Lee waited another minute, then pushed himself away from the
  rails.  "Let's go try the spindle top.  It just goes around...." 
  
  For the next two hours the boys went from ride to ride; some they
  repeated, others they decided that perhaps -- if time permitted --
  they'd return to, each hoping of course they would not.  During that
  time while they were waiting in lines they talked, comparing life on
  a ranch to life in Chicago. 
  
  Actually Joey did most of the talking, finding himself telling the
  other boy things he hadn't told anybody else -- about how sometimes
  since his father's death he felt like he was invisible, that
  everybody just forgot he existed. About how he hadn't wanted to come
  on this trip, about how his cousins dumping him at the first
  opportunity.  Lee didn't tease or make fun of him, didn't feel sorry
  for him either. He just listened and nodded, somehow conveying
  sympathy without pity.
  
  Eventually they realised that it had to be nearly lunchtime -- both
  boys suddenly realised they were starving.  That was when Lee looked
  around, and a horrified expression appeared on his face. "What's
  wrong?" Joey asked, craning his neck in an effort to see what had
  upset his companion so.
  
  "I've wandered off."  The boy's tone matched his expression.

  "Yeah, so?"

  "I'm not supposed to."  There was a pause, then he added, "And I
  don't have any money for lunch."

  "That's okay. I've got plenty for both of us." Joey grinned wickedly.
  "Tony paid me not to tell Uncle Mikey that he and Vinnie ditched me."
  At the time the money had been little comfort for being left alone
  but now Joey was glad he had it. "After we eat, we'll go looking for
  your family okay?"

  Lee nodded slowly.  He let Joey lead them towards one of the
  concession stalls, obviously thinking more of what would happen when
  he found his family, than about food. But he spoke up quickly, when
  Joey asked him if he wanted a hot dog or hamburger.  "I want a
  barbecue sandwich and a pickle."

  Joey wrinkled his nose. "Barbecue, yuck!"

  "You don't like barbecue?  Don't they have barbecue in Chicago?"

  "Not that I've ever seen. Nobody there would buy it anyway."

  "Why not?"  Lee looked scandalised.

  "Because it's yucky," Joey answered as if it was self explanatory.

  "Ain't you ever *eaten* barbecue?"

  "Just told you we didn't have it didn't I?"

  Lee shook his head.  As soon as they got their food, he led Joe over
  to a table where they sat down.  Lee unwrapped his sandwich and held
  it out.  "Try it."

  Joey looked dubiously at the sandwich for a moment before slowly
  reaching out and taking it. He tentatively took a small bite,
  prepared to spit it back out if it was too horrible. Instead his eyes
  widened in surprise. "It's good!"

  "Told ya,"  Lee gave him a satisfied nod, then took back his
  sandwich.
 
  Joey looked down at his hamburger. Somehow it didn't seem nearly as
  appealing now. Finally deciding he didn't care if he looked foolish,
  he dumped the hamburger in the garbage and went back and ordered a
  barbecue sandwich of his own. "Don't say a word," he warned Lee as he
  returned to the table with it.
 
  Lee just grinned at him, and said nothing.  It didn't take long for
  them to demolish their sandwiches, and the fries and cookies they
  went back for, and the cotton candy they got as they left the picnic
  area.
 
  "Suppose we should look for your family now," Joey said reluctantly.
   He didn't want to lose his newfound friend's company quite this
   soon.
  
  Lee glanced around the crowds, with an equally unhappy expression on
  his face.  "You think.. since we have to look anyway, we might as
  well check out the rides as we go?"
  
  Joey brightened. "Yeah. They might be on one of them after all."
  
  "Might.  All the kids came, they have to be somewhere."  Lee smiled,
  halfway, then shook his head slowly.  "I'm gonna get yelled at."
  
  "I get yelled at all the time." Joey shrugged. "It's not that bad."
  
  "I do too," Lee admitted.  "I don't like it much."  His worried
  expression changed to a grin.  "Hey!  The carousel!"
  
  Joey grinned back. "Wanna ride it?"
  
  "Yeah."  They raced over to the line, not at all dismayed by the fact
  that most of the others waiting were kids shorter than they, standing
  with parents.  The ride was surrounded by adults with cameras, taking
  pictures of the prides and joys.
  
  "You know," Joey said as they passed through the gate and ran to
   choose their horses, "this is the closest I'm probably ever going to
   get to riding a real horse."
  
  As Lee scrambled onto the horse beside his -- jumping up and
  straddling it as if he'd done so a hundred times, Joe thought -- he
  smiled.  "Horses are cool.  Unless they're dumb, then you have to
  spend all your time taking care of 'em."
  
  "I thought all horses were dumb."

  "Most horses are smart!  Smarter than some humans... at least they
  don't get themselves into trouble they way people do."
  
  As the ride started, their carousel horses began moving, up and down
  in opposite cycles. Lee grinned up at Joe when his horse was lower,
  and clutched the plastic reins tight with he was the taller. Joey
  grinned back, one hand on his own reins, the other wrapped around the
  pole that attached his horse to the ride. He closed his eyes,
  imagining that this was a real horse and that he and Lee were
  galloping across the prairie after bad guys or indians or something.
  
  The ride was, all in all, a lot more enjoyable than the roller
  coaster they'd ridden first.  They got back in line two more times,
  before deciding they had to keep looking for Lee's family.  As they
  walked off, Lee told him, "You were getting pretty good on horseback,
  Joe. We'll make a rider of you, yet!"

  "Thanks. But I don't know where I could practice it in Chicago."
  
  "They don't have horses in Chicago?"
  
  Joey shook his head. "Told you I'd never seen a real live horse
  before didn't I?"
  
  "That doesn't mean there *aren't* any.  Just that you ain't never
  seen 'em."
  
  "Same difference. If I don't see them I can't ride them very well can
  I?"
  
  "Yeah, but if Chicago *does* have horses then you can go look for
  them, and *then* ride them."
  
  "I still don't think we have any." Joey stopped and pointed at one of
   the attractions they were passing. "Let's go there."
  
  "What is it?"  Lee craned his head, but a crowd of people surged past
  as he looked.
  
  "A picture booth." Joey grabbed the other boy's hand and started
  pulling. "You dress up in costume and they take your picture. Come
  on. I've got enough for both of us to get a copy."
  
  "Pictures?!"  Lee nearly squeaked.  More excitedly he asked, "What
  sort of costumes?  Hey!  They've got a sheriff's outfit!  And a
  villain! You wanna pick those?"
  
  "Okay, but *I* get to be the sheriff."
  
  "Why do *you* get to be the sheriff?  *I* wanna be the sheriff."
  
  Joey thought for a moment. He could say it was because he was the one
  paying for it but he didn't want to make his friend feel like he owed
  him something. He could see from Lee's eyes that the other boy
  wanted to be the sheriff just as badly as he himself did. "Maybe we
  can both be sheriffs?" he ventured uncertainly.
  
  "Boys, why doesn't one of you be sheriff and the other can be his
  trusty deputy?"  They both looked up at the photographer, towering
  over them with a grin.  Joey recognised the grin as one forced by
  someone who had to be nice but would really rather be home, alone,
  with a beer and a football game.

  It was an expression he had been seeing a lot of lately. Consequently
  it made him even more stubborn than usual. "No," he said clearly,
  jutting his chin out and glaring at the man. "We both want to be
  sheriffs."

  With a long-suffering smile, the man nodded.  "One outfit's gonna be
  a bit big, then.  But come on, we'll get you suited up."
  
  Joey looked over and found Lee grinning from ear to ear, practically
  bouncing on his feet.  "I'll take the big one," he offered, despite
  his being shorter than Joey. Joey nodded, not seeing that it would
  make that much of a difference.
  
  The two boys quickly changed into the costumes and came back out,
  waiting for the photographer to set up the background. Lee put the
  oversized hat on his head, and it promptly fell over his eyes.
  Laughing, he tried to push it back where it would stay.
  
  "Here, I'll trade you hats," Joey offered, holding out the slightly
  smaller hat that had come with his costume.
  
  When they'd traded, and they'd managed to get Joe's hat situated on
  his head, they went over to stand in front of the western street
  backdrop.  Assuming poses of tough lawmen, they gave the camera
  fierce glares. 
  
  "We'll catch any outlaw in the west!"  Lee  exclaimed.
  
  "The west or Chicago!" Joey added, grinning at his friend.
  
  The photographer snapped his camera twice; soon the boys were told to
  change out of the costumes.  Lee began removing his, Joe kept his one
  for a moment, playing at being a lawman. But finally, reluctantly, he
  changed out of it as well. He gave it one last, covetous glance before
  leaving it, vowing that someday he'd have one of his own.

  They took the photos the man gave them, and swore they'd keep them
  forever.  Lee borrowed a pen from the photographer's podium, and they
  signed the backs before slipping the pictures into their pockets.
  Then Lee looked around the crowd.  "We gotta keep looking for Joy or
  Carla."

  Joey nodded. "Yeah." He knew his friend was right, even if he really
  didn't want them to find the women yet. Because then Lee would have
  to leave.

  "When we find em.. um, we better not let them know you were with me."
  He looked guilty, and apologised. "I'm not supposed to talk to
  strangers.  Even kid strangers."
  
  Again Joey nodded. "Okay." He understood even if he didn't like it,
  didn't think of himself as a stranger.  They'd just spent all day
  together, hadn't they?
  
  Lee held out his hand.  "I like you, Joe."
  
  Joey looked at the outstretched hand then took it, shaking it
  solemnly. "Me too." He sighed wistfully as he spotted one of the
  women Lee had come with in the distance. "I wish we could see each
  other again."
  
  "We might," Lee added doubtfully.  Suddenly startled, he stepped away
  from Joe.  "I had fun!" He called, just before he disappeared into
  the crowd.  As Joe watched, an older woman caught Lee.  She grabbed
  him, hugged him, and then began -- Joe could tell from where he stood
  -- began to scold him.  As they walked away, though Lee looked over
  his shoulder at him.  He didn't wave, only looked and smiled.

  *****

  "...I stood and watched till Lee was out of sight, then went back to
  the entrance to wait for my cousins," Joe finished, hands still
  fidgeting with the Six Flags banner he'd found.
  
  Levon couldn't hide his grin any longer.  He'd loved seeing his
  partner's face as he'd told the story, loved hearing just how much Joe
  had enjoyed that day. He handed over the photos he'd "found" while
  Joe had been talking.
  
  Joe looked down at the photo, then up quickly to stare shellshocked
  at his partner. "How...?" he started then his eyes widened at Levon's
  grin. "It was you?"
  
  Levon didn't answer, just kept grinning.  The photo was all the proof
  Joe needed.  Two young boys, dressed in sheriff's outfits.  "Turn it
  over." Mutely Joe did so. There on the back he saw, written in
  child's careful penmanship, "Joe" and next to it, "Levon".
  
  Joe ran his fingers over the writing. "I never..." He cleared his
  throat and tried again. "I never recognized you."
  
  Levon crawled over, and came up underneath Joe's head, bent over the
  picture. With a grin he gave his love a kiss.  "I didn't think you
  had.  I knew you, though."
  
  "When?" Joe asked curiously.
  
  Levon had been wondering whether it would be wise to tell Joe the
  truth.  Well, if he didn't believe...  "Soon as I saw you, there at
  the airport."
  
  "Why didn't you say anything?" He sounded genuinely bewildered.
  
  Levon looked away, a little embarrassed.  "I.. because I knew..."  He
  took a deep breath and tried again. He couldn't think of any good way
  to say it.
  
  "Just spit it out cowboy."
  
  "When I was fourteen I asked a gypsy woman how I could find you.  She
  said you'd come to me, all I had to do was wait."
  
  "You were looking for me?" Joe asked surprised.
  
  Embarrassed as hell, Levon answered.  "Yeah.  Been in love with you
  since I was four years old."
 
  Silence. Joe reached out wonderingly and caressed his partner's
  cheek. "You were?" he asked, soft-voiced.
 
  Levon looked at him, relieved.  He'd expected, or feared, that Joe
  would not believe him.  Or tease him, if he did. "Can't tell you
  why... just know that I have."
 
  "That still doesn't explain why you didn't say anything when you
  recognized me..."

  He looked away again, leaning back onto his heels. "Wasn't sure
  you'd... well, didn't figure you'd ever fall in love.  Not with the
  attitude you gave me when you got here."

  Joe reached out, and took hold of Levon's hand, entwining their
  fingers together. "You had a pretty good attitude yourself back
  then," he reminded his partner affectionately.
  
  Levon smiled.  "You started it."
  
  "I had a hit out on me and you'd just broadcast my name over the pa
  system!"
  
  Levon rolled his eyes.  "I'm *sorry*! OK?  No one told me there was a
  contract out on your life."
  
  "Well I guess you've made up for it since."
  
  "You forgive me?"  Levon gave his partner a hopeful look.
  
  "I forgave you long time ago, Levon," Joe said softly, then stole a
  quick kiss.
  
  Levon smiled, and returned the kiss.  "I'll remind you of that next
  time you try to hold it over my head," he teased.
  
  "Yeah, yeah." Joe waved a hand airily. "It's not like I don't have a
  lot of other stuff to hold over your head."
  
  "Like what?"  He asked warily.  True, he knew a lot of things his
  lover might be referring to, but that didn't mean Joe wasn't talking
  about something *else*.  Should he be worried?  Call Aunt Teresa and
  beg for 'embarrassing Joe-as-a-baby' stories?
  
  Joe didn't answer, just shook his head smiling. Instead he asked,
  "Did you get into trouble?"
  
  Levon felt himself blush.  "No... not really.  Got yelled at for
  wandering off all day.  Turns out they knew where we were practically
  the whole time.  Moss saw us take off for the Judge Roy...."
  
  "Thought you weren't supposed to talk to strange kids. Didn't you get
  in trouble for that?"
  
  "Yeah...  but thing of it is, they asked me about you...  they
  started looking at each other like adults do when they know something
  you don't.  Might have gone on about you a little too much, I reckon.
  They were kinda amused."  He smiled, and admitted, "I might have said
  you were cute."

  "You did?"  Levon nodded.  For a moment Joe just looked at him, then
  he returned the smile. "Well, I'm glad you didn't get into too much
  trouble..."
   
  "Well, Taylor wasn't happy.  I didn't get to go to town again until I
  was nearly seven."
  
  "Is that when the rule about kids not going into town until they were
   older was created?" Joe asked, obviously remembering what Levon had
   told him when they were going after Shensen.

  Levon nodded.  "They used to take kids out places every summer, and
  every fall.  The beach, the city...  I wasn't the only one to do
  something stupid but I guess it was the most stupid... most
  dangerous, that is.  Carla told him a four year old couldn't be
  expected to handle himself among humans, so Taylor made that rule."
  Levon sighed.  "All the other kids were so mad at me...."

  "Four? You were only four?"

  "Yeah."  Levon saw the astounded expression on Joe's face.  "Kinda
  wish I had been shorter, though.  Had nightmares about that roller
  coaster for weeks."

  Joe grinned. "Me too." He looked down at their clasped hands. "But it
  was worth it."

  "Definitely.  Have to thank Vinnie and Tony for ditching you."  He
  grinned.

  "Yeah. Who ever thought I'd be grateful to those two?" Looking at the
  picture again, he sighed wistfully. "I just wish they hadn't ripped
  up my photo."

  "That's all right, Joe."  Levon touched the one he still held.  "You
  can look at mine whenever you want."  He grinned.
 
  "Rather look at the real thing," Joe said in a husky tone that went
  straight to Levon's groin. Levon grabbed him, and pulled him close,
  kissing him deeply.  Suddenly he let go, and gave his lover a smile.
  "What?"
 
  "Now I can remind you that you *like* barbecue." 
  
  He fell backward, laughing, as Joe tackled him to the floor.
 
THE END